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THE RIGHT TO DISCONNECT; FIRST OF ITS KIND IN CANADA

By PRADEEP CHAND, Founding Partner

Bill 27, Working for Workers Act, 2021, Ontario’s new law on the right to disconnect, took effect on June 2, 2022, and this is what our civil litigation lawyer in Toronto has to say about it. The right to disconnect refers to the right of an employee not to be expected to engage in business activities outside of regular working hours, which could include answering work calls, emails, or other communications. The only two criteria under this act are that firstly, employers provide a written policy regarding their employees disconnecting from work and all employees be given a copy within 30 days of its creation. Secondly, the Act only applies to workplaces with a workforce of 25 employees or more.

The intention behind this new law is to give employees the right to detach from work activities outside of work. With the rise of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, the line between one’s personal life and work life started to blur as people began to feel pressure to answer work communications after hours. Therefore, it became hard to fully switch off from work. This new law aims to promote the physical and mental health of employees, and it may seem like it was put in place to only address employee concerns; however, it is advantageous to employers as much as it is to employees. Disconnections periods can prevent burnout, underperformance, and unproductivity, which ultimately affect the bottom line of a business.

The Act leaves it up to individual companies to draft an internal policy based on their own interpretation of the law and does not specify what should or should not be included within. Therefore, it is the company’s obligation to communicate expectations to its employees. Examples of disconnection rules may include turning out of office notifications on and adjusting the accepted email response time.

Like most laws, this new law is not free of pitfalls. The government of Ontario has left drafting a disconnection policy up to companies themselves with minimal guidelines, which creates ambiguity. Additionally, this law also only applies to 61% of Ontario’s private sector workers as the law does not apply to federally regulated businesses like banks, air services, broadcasting, etc. At the same time, it may also be irrelevant to have disconnection work policies in some industries due to the nature of the work. Moreover, the law only applies to workplaces that employ 25 employees and more. As a result, a lot of employees who might be at the mercy of overworking themselves the most are excluded because it is usually start-ups that promote a toxic work culture. Bigger companies benefit from having HR departments that tend to be more understanding of employees’ needs.

Though many countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland had already implemented the right to disconnect from work law, Ontario is the first among the other provinces and territories to do so in Canada. Other provinces and territories are expected to follow suit seeing how remote work has taken over the lives of people everywhere. Since the law is so new with many grey areas, we must wait to see the way the courts deal with problems that arise from this law and how case law gets established.

It is expected that some companies will fully embrace this new law in order to attract and retain talent as a healthy and strong working relationship between employees and employers promotes the overall productivity of the business and leads to increased success. The right to disconnect provisions are going to start being included in employment contracts or offer letters. Therefore, it is crucial that employees familiarize themselves with their company’s policies and get the help of an employment lawyer before signing their contract. Should you wish to contact one of our lawyers for a consultation, please feel free to contact our office at 416-583-2377, or you may email us at admin@chandlitigation.com.

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